September 19, 2016

Are You a “Real” Writer?

It was pointed out to me that the link in last week's post was broken (sorry!). So I did some research, and I'm not sure what happened to that author's website, but I've decided to resurrect this post here on my own site. The tone of that site allowed me to be a little snarkier than you may be used to, but I 100% stand behind the snark given the topic. Enjoy!

There is no shortage of posts and articles out there explaining what it takes to be able to call yourself a “real” writer. Some have simply outdated guidelines, like that you must have an agent and a traditional book deal, plus an advanced degree of course. Others include absurd requirements, such as creating weirdly codependent relationships with famous authors, entirely in your own head; desperately wanting a typewriter; or huffing the scent of books (rather than, oh I don’t know, reading them?).

But many “rules” are quite pervasive, appearing countless times, so let’s take a look, shall we? In order to be a “real” writer, you must:
  1. Write Every Day: Because the moment you’ve missed a day, or goodness forbid two, you lose the right to consider yourself a writer. No sick days, no family vacations, no breaks, and no days spent researching rather than writing; if you’re not writing every day, you’re not a writer. But then, if you can go an entire day without a desperate need to write something, which if unfulfilled will make you want to jump off a cliff, you’re obviously not a writer anyway.
    • Couple quick questions, though, how many days in a row must someone “bank” before this rule comes into effect, transforming him/her into a writer? Is two weeks straight enough? 100 days? A full 365 in a row? And does it matter what you’re writing every day, or does a text message count?
  2. Subsist On Coffee / Caffeine: Here’s a little secret: I don’t drink coffee. I wish I could, in fact, but I’m allergic. I also don’t drink soft drinks, and I’ve recently stopped drinking tea except very rarely (and never for the sake of staying awake). Apparently this means I will never, in fact could never, be a real writer. This strikes me as discrimination of sorts, but the title of “writer” must be kept exclusive somehow, right?
  3. Eat, Sleep, & Breathe Writing, and Prioritize Your Characters Over Real People: You have a life outside of writing? You’re clearly not committed enough. You can participate in social situations, and actually focus on the people you interact with rather than the characters in your head and/or eavesdropping on strangers for snippets of inspiration? Clearly you’re not (meant to be) a writer, because real life must absolutely take a back seat to your need to scribble on every surface while borrowing quirks to give your characters, or planning plot points to write next. 
    • Some people take this all the way to prioritizing writing over healthy eating, sleeping, or basic hygiene. Because health problems are inspiration, and body odor will just help keep all those pesky people who distract you away.
  4. Pay Some (Undefined) Percentage of Your Bills Through Income from Writing: Money makes the world go round. By this logic someone who goes running regularly, participates in marathons, etc. can’t call him/herself a “runner” unless s/he gets paid; someone performing in countless unpaid productions can’t call him/herself an actor. Who decides the cutoff here, though? I mean, if you’re paid enough for one cup of coffee per year, is that satisfactory? Or does it have to be enough to fund that addiction to coffee a writer must absolutely cultivate?
  5. Always Carry a Notebook/Writing Implement: This does make all that unplanned scribbling more convenient. It also saves you from digging through your garbage, like that old napkin or the bag from your popcorn, before knowing it’s safe to throw it away—lest it be the home of your latest great idea. I actually think having a notebook and pen/pencil with you is wise, overall, but how many times can you leave the house without those before you’re disqualified from being a writer?
  6. Hoard Books: Not read them, no. Own them, and own many more than you have actually read. Borrow your books from friends or the library? Not a true writer. Why? Well because you must be able to leave your mark on the page (you’re a writer, aren’t you?), with highlighters and margin notes! And if you want to leave your books clean from scribbles, you will never be a writer.
So many more rules are constantly spouted, but how do you measure up so far? I definitely fail according to these rules [Still! Even almost 2 years from the original writing of this post!], so I’m definitely not a real writer. I have written four novels and published three, but that obviously means nothing in the face of this popular wisdom distinguishing between “real” writers, and those who are merely posturing—like me.

Sarcasm aside, no one really knows (or perhaps everyone believes s/he knows) at what point someone truly falls into this special category of “writer.” In some ways, “writer” is a false distinction anyway, as many people actually mean “professional writer,” “author,” or “successful writer,” and variations thereof.

If you’re looking for hard-and-fast rules, I say go do something more easily delineated, like becoming a lawyer or engineer. Otherwise, maybe we should be focusing on being writers, rather than calling ourselves ones. Or go get that MFA in Creative Writing, because earning that sheet of paper will definitely make you a writer.

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